RSPO and 'Sustainable' Palm Oil: Is it All Greenwash?

We, at One Green Planet, have long spoken out about the abuses of the $44 billion palm oil industry. Most recently, we covered the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO)’s feeble response to a Forest People’s Programme report which alleged that its members had taken advantage of impoverished communities: “The RSPO acknowledges it is not a perfect solution, but it is a solution nevertheless.”

With this in mind, we are always a little skeptical when we hear about the RSPO’s commitment to “sustainable” palm oil.

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Corporate greenwash has become a major issue in recent years, with terms such as ‘natural’, ‘sustainable’, and ‘healthy’ being used as clever marketing tools, rather than having any serious commitment behind them. Is this the case with the RSPO? Let’s take a closer look.

The organization’s vision is to “transform markets to make sustainable palm oil the norm.” They hope to achieve this goal by “developing, implementing, verifying, assuring, and periodically reviewing credible goal standards for the entire supply chain of sustainable palm oil.”

But when its members violate these lofty ideals, does the RSPO have any way of punishing them?

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It appears not. Darrel Webber, Secretary General of the RSPO, openly admits that “non-complying member organizations can simply opt to leave the RSPO in the midst of a complaint, and consequently they will not be governed by any of our rules. The RSPO closely monitors the activities of its members [but] it has no legal way to enforce its members to comply.”

In other words, there are no sanctions, no penalties: the offending palm oil producer can simply walk right out of the RSPO if they don’t like what they’re hearing. With human lives at stake and endangered animals being threatened, what kind of solution is that?

According to Robert Hii, sustainable business consultant with The Huffington Post, “The lack of an enforcement mechanism by the RSPO is one of the big reasons why the [sustainable] label has not been accepted overall. Its members are not required to work by their rules or standards and yet we see claims of some 8 million tons of this palm oil being produced and sold as ‘sustainable.'”

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While the RSPO continues to remain legally ineffective and devoid of all real credibility, it seems that the only real solution is to avoid palm oil altogether.

Want to make a difference? Lend your support to up-and-coming alternatives to palm oil, such as “algalin,” discovered earlier this year by the renewable energy company Solazyme. We have also put together some handy guides that will help you to avoid palm oil and recognize greenwash when you see it.

Image Source: Angela Marie/Flickr